It wasn’t the finish Angel Yin wanted in today’s culmination of the 67th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, but in spite of losing, 3 and 2, to Eun Jeong Seong of the Republic of Korea, her performance marked a new milestone for the California teen.
“It feels great,” said Yin, 16, of Arcadia, Calif., who won the silver medal as the runner-up this week, her career-best finish in a USGA championship. “I had some tough matches and I didn’t think I could make it this far.”
The U.S. Girls’ Junior week started with 156 players and ended with only two – Seong and Yin – battling it out on a steamy Oklahoma Saturday with temperatures hovering near 100 at Tulsa Country Club.
It was the kind of championship final that had a determined, water-guzzling gallery walking the course and following the players, moving into the shade provided by trees at every opportunity. It was the kind of day when the droning songs of cicadas and a sleepy train horn in the distance filled the otherwise still, thick air.
And it was also a day that tested the mettle of two young competitors in the heat after a week of multiple matches and, in the case of Yin, a Friday morning match that, by her own admission, “wore [her] out.”
“I just wasn’t feeling it and I was so tired today,” said Yin. “My match with Andrea Lee on Friday took me. I was so drained from that match, and in my second match on Friday [against Mexico’s Evelyn Arguelles], I barely hung on [to win].”
Saturday’s championship set up as a battle of big hitters. Yin went 1 up on the first hole with a birdie to start the day before Seong answered with her own birdie to square the match on the second hole.
But then Yin made two early errors, hitting her tee shot on No. 3 and her second shot on No. 4 out of bounds, to give Seong a 2-up lead. The problem was that Yin was playing for her natural draw, but the ball wasn’t cooperating.
“This morning, I was hitting my shots ridiculously straight – and I don’t hit it straight,” said Yin. “I work my ball ... like a 20-yard hook. And because I was hitting it straight this morning, I was aiming outside to the right.”
Unfortunately for the teen, when her shots didn’t find their typical flight path, the result was added strokes and lost holes. And the problem of not always knowing where her ball was going made Yin operate with caution.
So many times, after Seong confidently pounded her driver off the tee, Yin was striding to the tee box with a 3-wood and then facing her second shot from the fairway 30-50 yards behind Seong.
“I was too conservative overall,” said Yin, a 5-foot-9 junior at Arcadia High School. “I think I was like 3 over in the first 18, which was my worst round all week, but I played decent golf on the second 18.”
And while Yin was more tentative than usual off the tee, her indecision on the greens also didn’t help.
“There were so many lip-outs and I was misreading the greens a lot,” said Yin, No. 8 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “Today, it just wasn’t happening.”
Yin, who calls herself a “feel player,” never found her comfort zone Saturday, while Seong, 15, appeared more relaxed. But the two teens walked together under a heat-reflecting umbrella down the 18th fairway in their morning round.
As they left the 18th green for the break between rounds, Yin and Seong play-smacked each other on the arms as they walked to the clubhouse. As is often seen at the Girls’ Junior, players are all business during competition and typical teenage girls off the course.
“It was pretty fun out there,” said Yin. “Eun Jeon is a great player. I met her two years ago, and I thought she was older than me, but then I asked. She’s like one year younger than me. I was so shocked, because I was always considered the tall one, the biggest one, and I saw her, and she took my title!”
Yin will get another chance to face Seong at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship Aug. 10-16, at Portland (Ore.) Country Club. And the 2015 winner of the ANNIKA Invitational on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) circuit will have another opportunity at the Women’s Amateur to master match play.
“Match play is completely different than stroke play,” said Yin, who will play the Junior PGA Championship August 3-6, in Bryan, Texas, en route to the Women’s Am. “Now, I have a taste of match play and how I can work with it.”